The Department of Agriculture is mandating that letters from President TrumpDonald TrumpCheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump Republicans criticizing Afghan refugees face risks DeVos says 'principles have been overtaken by personalities' in GOP MORE be included in millions of food assistance boxes, according to Politico.
The $4 billion Families to Farmers Food Box Program has distributed 100 million boxes already, the USDA announced Wednesday. The program delivers surplus goods that would normally go to restaurants to families experiencing financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Organizations tasked with distributing the food have complained that the messaging and campaign-like letters included in the boxes appear to have the goal of boosting the president’s image ahead of the election.
“In my 30 years of doing this work, I've never seen something this egregious,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Food Banks, told Politico. "These are federally purchased boxes.”
The fact that the letters were included in some of the boxes was first reported by Fox News in July. On Wednesday the White House posted a campaign-style video on Twitter touting the food boxes with remarks Trump made in North Carolina in August before a crowd of a few hundred people.
The letter, which comes in English and Spanish, says: “As President, safeguarding the health and well-being of our citizens is one of my highest priorities. As part of our response to coronavirus, I prioritized sending nutritious food from our farmers to families in need throughout America.”
Some lawmakers have argued that the letters could potentially violate the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal officials besides the president and vice president from engaging in politics in their official capacity.
“Using a federal relief program to distribute a self-promoting letter from the President to American families just three months before the presidential election is inappropriate and a violation of federal law,” a group of 49 House Democrats, led by Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia FudgeBiden administration launches new national initiative to fight homelessness Sanders goes back to 2016 playbook to sell .5T budget Activists detail legal fight against HUD for Philadelphia housing MORE of Ohio, wrote in an Aug. 14 letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueSonny PerdueOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court rules that pipeline can seize land from New Jersey | Study: EPA underestimated methane emissions from oil and gas development | Kevin McCarthy sets up task forces on climate, other issues The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Georgia election day is finally here; Trump hopes Pence 'comes through for us' to overturn results Civil war between MAGA, GOP establishment could hand Dems total control MORE.
“A public health crisis is not an opportunity for the administration to promote its own political interests. Likewise, a federal food assistance program should not be used as a tool for the President to exploit taxpayer dollars for his re-election campaign.”
In a statement to The Hill, the Agriculture Department said “politics has played zero role in the Farmers to Families food box program — it is purely about helping farmers and distributors get food to Americans in need during this unprecedented time.”
The agency noted the letters have been included for months but did not answer questions about the mandate Politico reported. The Agriculture Department's response also included positive statements about the program from Anthony FauciAnthony FauciTrump on what would prevent 2024 bid: 'I guess a bad call from a doctor' Overnight Health Care — Presented by Indivior — CDC panel approves boosters for some, but not based on jobs Fauci: 'Worst time' for a government shutdown is in middle of pandemic MORE, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Ivanka TrumpIvanka TrumpMary Trump calls Donald Trump Jr. her 'stupidest' relative Trump Tower debt added to watch list as vacancies rise House panel tees up Trump executive privilege fight in Jan. 6 probe MORE, the president’s daughter and senior adviser.